Can telecommuting help or hinder?

Wilkin County, Minn., will hold their truth in taxation meeting at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 5 and the next county board meeting will be at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 17.

Wilkin County Board met Tuesday, Dec. 3 to approve a telecommuting request for a financial worker employed through the county. The commissioners approved of a three-month pilot to determine if telecommuting would be an effective change.

Human Resources Director Stephanie Sandbakken asked the board for approval of a current Wilkin County financial eligibility worker to be able to telecommute for a six-month trial. Human Services Director Dave Sayler joined Sandbakken to participate in this discussion.

The current policy states that those who telecommute must have 24 hours of onsite work per week, this request would grant full-time telecommuting. The commissioners were concerned with efficiency, productivity, and the benefit that this change would cause for the county and for the worker.

“Sometimes you can improve your efficiency working at home”, Sayler said. Productivity was mentioned to increase if the worker was able to work from home in order to avoid interruptions.

It was stated that the position is not a supervisory position. The position handles medical-related cases processed via computer-system. The employee commutes approximately 25 miles into work and has a schedule that requires balancing work with three children and a spouse that works on the road.

“It makes a difference if there is a chance of losing that person. We are trying to be accommodating in regard to that person’s lifestyle,” Sayler said. “This person is a great employee and we want to keep great employees.”

The commissioners ultimately approved of a three-month telecommuting trial. Additionally, requiring the worker to complete daily logs to document work production and effectiveness.

This discussion was worrisome for commissioners as it may set a precedent for other employees to request telecommuting as well. There has been a steady rise of Americans working from home according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In 2017, 5.2 percent, approximately eight million people, of U.S. workers telecommuted. This is up from 5 percent in 2016 and 3.3 percent in 2000.

There are many pros and cons to the loss of separation of work and home.

According to the U.S. News and World Report, pros are flexibility while still completing deadlines, fewer interruptions from meetings and office chatting and no commute time or expense. Cons are no physical separation between work and leisure time, digital communication systems can cause misinterpretations rather than in-person contact, and being able to place oneself in a work mindset in a home setting.

Telecommuting has clear benefits and challenges. However, the recent rise of telecommuters in the U.S. shows that this a necessary shift to accommodate the workforce.

Wilkin County will hold their truth in taxation meeting at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 5 and the next county board meeting will be at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 17.

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